Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana
The decline of Santillana del Mar manifested in a shortage of important buildings for the last decades of the 16th and the 17th centuries. Santillana del Mar returned to splendor at the end of the 17th century, and more than ever during the 18th century with the return of the “Indians”—those emigrants who went to America and brought a capital with which they built magnificent mansions.
At the same time the writers Amos de Escalante and Benito Perez Galdos, as well as outstanding members of the bourgeoisie of Madrid, restored some of the houses and became vacationers in the town. This incipient tourism increased further with the discovery of the Caves of Altamira and the cave paintings in 1879. In the 20th century, the town was mentioned in Nausea (1938) a novel by the French philosopher and writer Jean Paul Sartre, who spoke of it as “a true relic in life of man”.
The early appointment of Santillana del Mar as a Historic-Artistic Site in 1889, and the restorations undertaken by Count Güell (grandson of Antonio Lopez, the first Marquis of Comillas) in 1927 led to the streets of Santillana del Mar being preserved so well that they are virtually unchanged, maintaining their 16th century atmosphere.
The old town follows a linear scheme, in the Greek form, composed of Velasco Street which continues towards Santo Domingo, from where there are two streets: one that goes to the Collegiate Church and the other which leads to the main square, the market, or Ramón Pelayo, where the weekly Saturday market is held.
We start our tour in the Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana, a Romanesque design of the 12th century with later additions, which has been declared a national monument. The temple, of basilical design and with three naves, is crowned by semicircular apses, and follows the Romanesque model of the Camino de Santiago. The primitive Romanesque façade, at the foot of the temple, shows a series of reliefs preserved in the interior of the Church (Pantocrator, Saint Juliana…) due to the construction of the Bell Tower to the West in the 13th century, a gate was replaced on the South side. In the middle of the 15th century the remains of Santa Juliana were moved to the front and in the first half of the 16th century the altarpiece of the altar greater was built. An important gold treasure is kept in the sacristy. The magnificent cloister (13th century), the only one of Romanesque style in Cantabria that is still intact, is esteemed by the great decorative variety and wealth of the capitals. Some of these capitals have representations of scenes from the Old and New Testament and others relating to the life of the time, as “The Welcome of the Lady to the Knight”.
The Museum of Jesús Otero is located in the Plaza de la Colegiata, which is a permanent exhibition on the sculptor from Santillana del Mar. Opposite from it you can find the House of the Archduchess of Austria, or House of the Abbots (17th century), whose beautiful patio has been converted into an antiques shop. In the nearby Plaza de las Arenas is the Palace of the Velarde (between the 15th and 17th centuries), a building from the Gothic to Renaissance transition.
Although there are many mansions that deserve mention, we’re pointing out some key examples in Santillana del Mar. Next to the uniquely conserved trough for cows, you can find the House of Cossio and the House Quevedo, both from end of the 17th century. In the latter it is traditional to drink a glass of milk and cake with the people of town.
Following the calle del Río (previously Rúa del Rey) you will find the Casa de los Villa, of Baroque style, also known as “Casa de los Hombrones” due to the imposing warriors that stand guard on the shield, in which states: “a good death is a work of life.” Another significant building is the Casa de Leonor de la Vega (between the 15th and the 17th centuries), according to the tradition, it housed the mother of the first Marquis of Santillana.
The concentration of the civil architecture can be found in the main square. The Torre de Don Borja, attached to other buildings and property of the Santillana Foundation is managed by the municipality of Santillana as the scene of festivals and cultural events. The Torre del Merino, from the 14th century, was the residence of the merino (the house and symbol of Lordly power that eventually imposed the ecclesiastical power, the Abbot, and an was later appointed by the Duke of the Infantado). Built with stonework from blocks in the bow point of access, retains all its defensive elements: arrow slits, machicolations and embrasures battlements. On the other side of the square is the House of the Eagle (17th century) and the House of the Parra (16th century), converted together into the cultural center. In front of them is the Palacio de Los Barreda, now Parador Nacional Gil Blas.